Sunday, September 30, 2012

John 15:5 - Neener, Neener, Neener...You Can't Do Anything!

“I am the vine; you are the branches.  Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.  For apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5 (NLT)

Do you take offence to the last sentence in this verse?  I struggle with it.  “Apart from me you can do nothing.” 

What do you mean, “I can do nothing.”?  I’m an independent, intelligent, married woman with a challenging career in the 21st century.  There are lots of things I’m capable of doing.  (And apparently one of them is taking pride in my accomplishments.) J

To get the proper context for this statement we need to look at the relationship Jesus describes at the beginning of John 15.  He compares relationship with Himself to the life giving relationship the branch on a grapevine shares with the main stem of the plant.

When a branch breaks off the main stem of a grapevine it stops receiving nutrients from the plant’s roots.  Without nutrients the branch no longer thrives.  It dries out, shrivels up, and dies.  Without connection to the main stem, the branch literally, “can do nothing”.

Jesus isn’t sticking out His tongue and taunting us like a kid on the play ground yelling, “Neener, neener, can’t do anything.”  Instead He’s explaining to us how to become mature Christians.

Christians are like branches on a grapevine.  If we choose to cut ourselves off from relationship with Jesus (the main connection to our source of spiritual nourishment) we cannot develop spiritually.

I just finished reading, “The Biblical Basis of Christian Counseling for People Helpers” by Gary R. Collins.  In one chapter on Christian spiritually Dr. Collins writes about becoming more Christ-like through the process of spiritual growth.

As I read his thoughts I realized I’m sometimes guilty of trying to achieve spiritual growth through accumulation of God knowledge instead of God relationship.  Trying to grow spiritually solely through the accumulation of knowledge is an act in futility. 

Spiritual growth withers and dies in the absence of relationship with Jesus.  But, if we choose a long term relationship with Christ as the Son of God, we receive ongoing, life giving nutrients for our spiritual journey.

By remaining connected to Him we are guided down a path leading to personal spiritual growth.  As we grow spiritually the light of Christ shines brightly in our lives, revealing His presence to those around us.

When I see the verse in this light my knee jerk, pride-filled reaction to the statement, “apart from me you can do nothing” fades away and I realize just how true those words are.

Things To Think About...
Are you trying to achieve spiritual growth through accumulation of knowledge instead of relationship with Christ?  Share your thoughts by clicking on “comments” below.

“I am the vine; you are the branches.  Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.  For apart from me you can do nothing.” 
John 15:5 (NLT)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pumpkin Cupcake Surprise

The mornings are colder, the days are shorter, and the leaves are changing colour.  It must be fall.  I dream about the hot, humid days of summer, but I still look forward to fall. 

I love this time of year.  Sunlight filters through branches dripping with oranges and golds.  Dry leaves beg to be scrunched underfoot.  Do I smell the scent of turkey in the air?

Canadian Thanksgiving is only two weeks away.  I'm excited.  Turkey is one of my favourite foods and two gobblers recline in our freezer, awaiting the anticipated day.

This month's recipe can accompany pumpkin pie as an added dessert on your Thanksgiving dinner table. 

These cupcakes aren't overly sweet, have a touch of cinnamon, and are bursting with creamy surprise filling.

Even the colour of the batter screams autumn.  It's such a vibrant orange, it could almost masquerade as orange sorbet.  The pan was so pretty I almost didn't want to bake them!

Here's the recipe.

Pumpkin Cupcake Surprise

CUPCAKES (makes about 18)
2 cups white sugar
1 can (498 mL) pumpkin (just pumpkin, not pie filling)
3/4 cup canola oil
4 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder

Beat sugar, oil, pumpkin, and eggs until well blended.  Add flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon and mix into pumpkin mixture until well blended.

Fill paper-lined muffin cups 2/3 full and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  (You might need a little longer depending on your oven.)  Test them by poking a toothpick into the middle.  If it comes out clean (with no batter on it) they're done.

Let cool for about 10 minutes.  Remove from pans and let cool completely.

1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 cup softened butter
2 cups icing sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Mix cornstarch and milk in a small pot over medium heat.  Bring to a boil (it will stick so make sure you stir this constantly).  Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Beat the shortening, butter, icing sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Gradually add the cornstarch mixture and beat until smooth.  (This may take a lot of beating.  If it looks like the mixture is lumpy and separating, keep beating.  It will eventually get the smooth consistency of butter cream icing.)

Using a sharp knife, cut a small circle about 1 inch deep into the top of each cupcake.  Remove the top.  Spoon or pipe the filling into each cupcake.  Replace the top.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Psalm 18:1-2 - Personal Altars

“I love you, Lord; You are my strength.  The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;  my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.  He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.”  Psalm 18:1-2 (NLT)

We live in an imperfect world.  (I’m sure this doesn’t come as a hot news flash.)  The world is filled with imperfect people striving to get ahead and worshiping at their own personal altars; whatever those altars might be...
·         Success
·         Ego
·         Entitlement
·         Financial gain
·         Fitness and health
·         Family
·         Church work

The list of personal altars goes on as long (or perhaps longer, if that’s possible) as the Emmy Award show playing on TV this evening.  Admittedly some days you might find me worshiping at some of these altars. 

Not everything we prioritize is bad.  In fact many of our daily activities benefit those around us.  Quite frequently our motivation for performing various activities comes from a desire to help other people.

So why am I coming down on things like financial gain, fitness and health, family, and church work?  Don’t we need to provide for our families?  Shouldn’t we be concerned about our health?  Aren’t we called to do the work of the church?

The answer to all these questions is a resounding, “Yes”!  We are called and should do all these things.  The point I’m getting at is these activities quickly usurp God’s place in our life. 

I’ll give you an example from my own life.  Over the past four years I’ve focused on becoming physically fit.  I joined Curves and work out three times a week.  I started running this summer and run three times a week as well as working out at Curves.

I've made a conscious decision to grow spiritually and develop a closer relationship with God.  I try to read the Bible every morning and spend time in prayer with God every day.

Did you catch the single word in those two paragraphs pointing to my priorities?  I “try” to read the Bible.  Notice I didn’t say I “try” to work out or I “try” to run.  No, those activities I make time for regardless.

What’s wrong with this picture?  Whose altar am I worshiping at?  Can fitness and health protect me?  Can it be my “rock, my fortress, and my saviour”?  Can it be my “place of safety”?  Of course not!  Only God can do these things.

Intellectually I know this.  Yet when I travel and don’t have time to do both my fitness routine and my reading.  Guess what's left out?

This verse reminds me to get my priorities straight.  I’m so glad that God is a God of mercy who loves us in spite of our flaws; a God who gives us a second, third, fourth, and fifth (etc.) chance to get it right.  It motivates me to realign my activities and put God first.

Are your priorities right?  What altar do you worship at?  Share your thoughts be clicking on “comments” below.

“I love you, Lord; You are my strength.  The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;  my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.  He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.”  Psalm 18:1-2 (NLT)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Basking In God's Presence

I’m a basker.  This is not to be confused with busker (which requires some semblance of talent).  Fortunately being a basker requires no talent at all.  It simply requires a ray of sunshine. 

A cup of tea, a pair of sunglasses, and a good book are certainly preferable basking accessories, but not actual requirements.

Basking is best done outside on a warm summer day, but one can bask just as effectively inside on a cold snowy day.  All you have to do is emulate the cat. 

Find an exposed sunbeam on the carpet or couch and voila, instant winter basking access!  I’ll even admit to putting on sunglasses when basking inside so the reflection from the pages of my book doesn’t hurt my eyes.

I look forward to my morning basking ritual which involves a sunbeam, a cup of Earl Grey tea, and the Bible.  It’s my quiet time to spend in God’s word. 

This morning during my basking time a random thought popped into my head.  What would it be like to have tea (or coffee or juice – you pick) with God?

I have tea with my girlfriends, with my sister, by myself, and with my husband, but imagine sitting in Starbucks having tea with God.  What would that be like?

I indulged my imagination.  The closest thing I could imagine is sitting in bright sunlight magnified by...well...infinity. 

I close my eyes and feel the warmth of the sun on my face.  The brilliance of God’s glory radiates around me, warming and caressing like the sun’s rays. 

I relax, feeling His presence with me.  No words are necessary.  His smile radiates love and compassion.  I bask in His presence.

The tea tastes sweet.  The air is still.  I pour out my frustrations, my inadequacies, my hopes and desires, and my anxieties to Him. 

Peace descends and the cares and worries of life fade away in His presence.  I want to stay in this peaceful place, but the commitments of life call. 

God smiles.  His protective presence wraps around my shoulders like a shawl of prayer.  I hear the whipser of my name; gentle and filled with love.  He’s with me as I go into the world to face the day.

Let me share a secret with you.  You don’t have to imagine what it’s like to have tea with God.  Every morning when you read the Bible and pray, that’s tea with God.  It’s a wonderful time of basking in His presence.

Do you meet God for tea or coffee?  Share some of your encounters with God by clicking on comments below.

Monday, September 17, 2012

James 1:5 - The Secret To Wise Choices

“Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.”  James 1:5

Are you in a situation you’re not sure how to navigate?

Maybe you’ve started a new job and don’t have a clue what to do.  Maybe you’re just married and are struggling to adjust to your new living arrangements.  Maybe you’ve had a new baby are terrified of making a mistake and messing up your child’s life.

Regardless of how prepared you think you are; you wake up one dismal morning to find’re not!  It’s a sickening reality to realize you haven’t a clue what you’re doing!

You put on a mask and fake your way through the day, secretly knowing you’re digging a rut in the mud that’s going nowhere, but down.  What do you do? 

One option I’ve used in the past is to leap into a quick decision.  Typically I end up looking like a complete idiot, when the house of cards I’m juggling rains down around my feet in ruins.  For obvious reasons, I don’t recommend this method to problem solving!

The approach James suggests is a much better option...

Enter prayer!

“Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.”  James 1:5

Not sure what to do or where to turn?  Ask God for His divine guidance and wisdom.  He always guides you down the best path. 

Have you made a snap decision that wasn’t the best choice in a situation?  Share your thoughts by clicking on “comments” below.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 - What's Real Love?

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong doing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (ESV)

This weekend I attended two very important events in the life of a good friend.  The theme of love was prevalent in both. 

Friday evening my friend’s parents celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary.  Saturday afternoon my friend was married. 

I must confess when I attend weddings I get a little cynical about the promises to love and cherish forever.  Perhaps my less than stellar success in past marriages has something to do with it, or maybe it’s the information from a 2012 fact sheet on the Canadian divorce rate indicating 40% of Canadian marriages end in divorce.

The truth is, as the happy couple makes their promises, I can’t silence the cynical voice in my head whispering, “How long will it last.” (Is there something wrong with me or does everyone secretly have these thoughts?) 

Don’t get me wrong…I love weddings. I cry, I’m filled with romantic thoughts, and I genuinely wish the couple well.  I just can’t ignore the facts.

This weekend was different.  It was a joy to watch her parents swirl around the dance floor still faithfully in love after 55 years of shared joys and sorrows.

I envisioned them 55 years earlier…young and na├»ve with no idea what lay ahead of them, but dedicated to staying together regardless of what life would throw at them.

A few weeks earlier my friend and I had a chance to chat.  I’ve gone through two divorces, but was married again two years ago.  My friend has been widowed twice but decided to step out in faith and trust love once more. 

We’re both older and hopefully a little wiser.  We know life isn’t easy.  We know the “perfect happily ever after with no trouble along the way” is a thing of fairy tales.  We both have our faults and we know the men we love have theirs, and yet, neither one of us has given up on love. 

Love isn’t just that warm, fuzzy, melting feeling you sometimes experience.  Love is a conscience choice you make.  It’s a choice you make when things are going great and it’s the more difficult choice you make to remain faithful and stick with it when life gets rough.

Steadfast, dedicated, life lasting love is possible and Paul tells us exactly what it looks like in this week’s excerpt from his letter to the members of the church in Corinth.

I’m making the choice to love in the good, and in the bad.  I want to be the couple twirling on the dance floor as second and third generations look on.  I want to beat the odds and break out of the statistical box.  I choose to love my husband and honour my marriage. 

And I’m happy to report the cynical voice didn’t join me this weekend.

What about you?  Are you making a conscience choice to love?  Please share your thoughts by clicking on “comments” below.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong doing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Monday, September 3, 2012

Proverbs 15:1 - Calm Response or Verbal Assault?


“A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” Proverbs 15:1

Consider this scenario...

You’ve picked up your four-year-old daughter from day care and you’re driving home.  Someone in a Ford F150 blows by you, cuts into the lane in front of you, and slams on the brakes.  You miss rear ending him by a hair’s breath.

Cursing, you swerve recklessly into the passing lane, hammer the accelerator, then slow down so you can drive alongside him, making rude hand gestures and yelling insults about his mother through the closed window.

He shakes his head and speeds away.  The last thing you see is the silhouette of his middle finger in the back windshield of his truck.

Remembering your four-year-old, you bite down hard on your flapping tongue, and arrive home; steam emanating from both ears.

The story continues...

Your four-year-old is playing in her room.  You’ve got supper in the oven, laundry in the washing machine, and you think you’ve got just enough time to vacuum the living room before you need to put the veggies on to boil.

Your husband comes home from his twelve hour work day.  He’s distracted and worried that he’s next on the chopping block for layoffs.  He changes into his yard clothes, planning to cut the grass, and hands you his work shirt to add to the washing machine. 

You look at him in disbelief and say in a snarky tone, “Go put it in yourself!”  He responds in an equivalent tone. 

The evening disintegrates into an ugly argument with your four-year-old crying in her room.

Does this sound like any of your evenings?

Our schedules are busier than ever...

When you’re already stressed it’s hard to be patient with people around you.  We’ve all got our personal schedules and plans.  When something interferes it’s hard not to lash out in frustration.

While King Solomon didn’t lead the perfect godly life (he had character flaws just like the rest of us) he certainly left us with some wise thoughts and advice in the book of proverbs.

Calm words rather than verbal assault...

Your first reaction in a frustrating situation is probably to launch a verbal assault, but the memory verse for this week reminds us of the importance of staying calm and rational in the face of stress.

Venting your anger only puts the other person on the defensive, evoking a return assault of equal or greater frustration.  But a calm response encourages rational discussion rather than an irrational argument.

Can you think of incidents in your life where a calm word could have averted a hostile confrontation?  Share your thoughts by clicking on “comments” below.

“A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” Proverbs 15:1